Nelson Mandela’s First-Ever TV Interview (1961)

Note: This post was originally featured on our site in 2010. In light of the news that Nelson Mandela has passed away at age 95, we’re bringing this vintage clip back to the fore. Here you can see a young Mandela making history, and without perhaps realizing it, building the remarkable legacy that remains with us today.

In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested on allegations of sabotage and other charges and sentenced to life in prison, where he spent 27 years before becoming South Africa’s first president elected in a fully democratic election. His story, among modern history’s most profoundly inspirational, is beautifully and poetically captured in Clint Eastwood’s 2009 gem, Invictus. But what Eastwood’s account leaves out are the events that preceded and led to Mandela’s arrest.

In May of 1961, a 42-year-old Mandela gave his first-ever interview to ITN reporter Brian Widlake as part of a longer ITN Roving Report program about Apartheid. At that point, the police are already hunting for Mandela, but Widlake pulls some strings and arranges to meet him in his hideout. When the reporter asks Mandela what Africans want, he promptly responds:

“The Africans require, want the franchise, the basis of One Man One Vote – they want political independence.”

But perhaps more interesting is the dialogue towards the end of the interview, where Mandela explores the complex relationship between peace and violence as protest and negotiation tactics. We’re left wondering whether his seemingly sudden shift from a completely peaceful campaign strategy up to that point towards considering violence as a possibility may be the product of South African police going after him with full force that week. Violence, it seems, does breed violence even in the best and noblest of us.

Related Content:

Nelson Mandela Archive Goes Online (With Help From Google)

The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Goes Online

U2 Releases a Nelson Mandela-Inspired Song, “Ordinary Love”

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of eclectic interestingness and indiscriminate curiosity. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine, BigThink and Huffington Post, and spends a disturbing amount of time curating interestingness on Twitter.



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  1. Dojo says . . . | January 30, 2012 / 4:05 pm

    Totaly Wicked Dude

  2. Chiel Reemer says . . . | December 6, 2013 / 1:11 am

    What a man. I feel shumbled and inspiored by such strength.

  3. One Woman One Vote says . . . | December 6, 2013 / 4:14 am

    So, my question is, is Maria Popova the writer of this article? Because whoever wrote it lost their objectivity and started editorializing in the last paragraph. How does she interpret what he said as “considering violence” when what he actually described was a process of looking at and reevaluating non-violent techniques–a clear warning to the “powers-that-were” that their violence could turn back on them. To make such a statement does not mean that one is considering violence, just that if pushed far enough one has to eventually defend oneself. And forgive my editorializing when I say that considering self defense is not “considering violence”.

  4. Truth Troubadour says . . . | December 6, 2013 / 5:09 am

    SALUTE TO NELSON MANDELA! u201cVOLCANOu201d is an anti-Apartheid song that was released in 1988 on the 12 song LP titled Ride the Wind by Vic Sadot’s CRAZY PLANET BAND. Free at this Last FM link!http://www.last.fm/music/Vic+Sadot/Ride+the+Wind/Volcano The song describes the abuses of extreme racism and economic exploitation that represented the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In those days the US government considered Nelson Mandela to be a u201cterroristu201d as he languished in prison for decades. Volcano explodes on the notion that the ending of Apartheid was inevitable given the sheer numbers of people involved and the will to have freedom and justice that burns in hearts of most people. VOLCANO has Vic Sadot Singer-Songwriter on vocals and electric rhythm guitar. Rob Sadot on electric guitar, Ed Gorski on keyboards, Tris Hovanec (RIP) on bass, Rob Boxturtlebob Chirnside on drums, and jazz singer Ellen Lebowitz on guest back-up vocals. Cool Cover by Curt C. S. Wayne (RIP)

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